APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD, joined members of Congress yesterday on Capitol Hill including (left) Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-Florida) and (center) House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to discuss the need for emergency Zika funding. Photo by David Fouse/APHA

APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD, joined members of Congress yesterday on Capitol Hill including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Shultz (left, D-Florida) and House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (center) to discuss the need for emergency Zika funding. Photo by David Fouse/APHA

Public health isn’t alone in the fight against Zika.

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin and other public health leaders were joined yesterday on Capitol Hill by several members of Congress to send a clear message to their colleagues: “Do your job.”

“A public health emergency that takes the biggest toll on children challenges our conscience in a very different way,” House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said. “Dr. Benjamin said the science is clear. The urgency is here. We must act upon it, and Congress must act.”

Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), Nita Lowey (D-New York), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida) and Frederica Wilson (D-Florida) discussed the many compelling reasons for Congress to approve emergency funding for the virus. Atop the list were not only the roughly 17,000 people who have been infected in the U.S. and its territories — but the fact that the risk is greatest for pregnant women and babies. As a result of the virus, 17 U.S. babies have been born with microcephaly and many more have been neurologically impacted.

However, Congress has repeatedly failed to allocate any funding to address the outbreak since President Barack Obama outlined a $1.9 billion plan for Zika preparedness and response in February. During its seven-week recess, which ended Tuesday, confirmed Zika cases more than quadrupled and the first non-travel related cases were confirmed in Florida.

A lack of congressional funding dedicated to controlling and preventing the spread of Zika has helped create a multi-layered “public health disaster,” according to Benjamin and other speakers. Aside from its toll on human health, it has forced the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health to divert more than $670 million to Zika efforts that were previously deployed to address other pressing public health priorities, like Ebola, HIV/AIDS, child immunization, cancer research and heart disease.

Additionally, the threat of Zika has caused significant harm to Florida’s economy. According to Reuters, flight bookings to Miami have plummeted since mosquito-transmitted cases were confirmed by the Florida Department of Health, and Wasserman Schultz said that women who are pregnant — or hope to become pregnant — are scared to fly to the state.

“It is hurting our businesses,” Wilson said. “Tourism is dying, restaurants are on the verge of closing.”

Time is of the essence to fund Zika. By the end of September, federal public health agencies will have no money to respond to the outbreak. According to Benjamin and National Association of County and City Health Officials Executive Director LaMar Hasbrouck, funding shortfalls are likely to cause the virus to spread both locally and to other states well into the future.

“Mosquito season doesn’t end until later this winter and we’ll see this again,” Benjamin said. “I was a state health officer in Maryland during the West Nile virus. We know what’s going to happen (without funding). It’s going to continue. This idea that somehow there’s some magic way to escape this, if that’s what people are thinking, is just wrong.”

Watch the full webcast of this event, and tell your members of Congress to approve the highest possible level of emergency funding to combat Zika without any controversial policy riders.